.....sssssssss....ssssssssss.... What's that? It's a Tuesday-night Snakesploitation Triple Feature, that's what!!! I have three of these slithering sneaky suckers lined up and damn if I'm not gonna be hissing and spitting by the end of the night! Will I survive, or will I succumb to the venom? Read on to see!
So what is snakesploitation? Well, like any of the various subgenres using specific subject matter to ensure audience turn-out, snakesploitation movies bank on the natural fear all of us have of forked-tongue serpents. If you're not afraid of snakes, something's wrong with you. I mean, they don't have any legs! That's just not right. Ground is for walking, not slithering (according to my bumper sticker), and snakes break that rule. I have no problem with sea snakes (unless they're land snakes in the sea, like a submarine or boat or something) because of all the other equally unpleasant things drifting in the ocean waiting to harm you, but on land they just don't belong. And of course, since I can't stand the things, I love to watch movies about them killing many many humans in interesting ways.
Over the years, a respectable number of films huddled together to form this club, exhausting the variables of setting, situation, and reasons that put man and snake together, including even more specific sub-sub-genres (like the snake-in-anus movies: The Vineyard, The Witch with Flying Tail, and Goodbye, Emmanuelle (it's true, I saw it on IMDb) and have even undergone a recent revitalization (Anaconda, the better sequel, Snakes on a Plane). The best are still from the 70s though, and tonight I've got a platter filled to the brim with classics. Starting it all off is Rattlers.
Two boys climb a desert hill to see a "real live skeleton" and fall into a rattlesnake den and die die die! This is great because I hate kids. I'm in a special kind of mood tonight and this first scene makes me think I'm on a personal journey. This guy in a tie looks like his face is more on the left side of his head than his right. Maybe it's just the angle. He's tapping on the glass of a snake tank though so he's going to die at some point in this movie. That's good too because he's one of these guys who keeps way too much crap in his breast pocket.
This guy looks like bait, right?
Now here's something problematic. The janitor, in a wild spasm of sweeping, has knocked a king cobra's cage door ajar. Oops. Mr. Pocket Clip is handling stressed out "pleasantly plump" birds. Oh he's gonna get it. Damn this turtleneck'd snake scientist! He's here to save the day with his complicated snake charming technique (no doubt learned in India). It's a good thing it's not a spitting cobra he's charming. Otherwise his eyes would be melted by now. This is serious. This snake guy has handled hundreds of snake-bite cases but NOTHING like those kids.
Look into my eyes, Cobra!
In the interest of good taste, I watched the rest of the movie without the running commentary. I kind of wish I had kept it up though. This is not what I would call a self-sufficient movie. If I didn't have the notepad nearby and, I admit, a game or two of solitaire to get me through, this would've turned into a pretty boring venture. However, that's not to say there wasn't stuff to like in it. It's just that the movie was too slow to carry itself. Here's the good stuff:
-I love the Rattler-esque wind chime instrumentation in the score. It kind of kills any kind of suspense because the people ALWAYS get bit so as soon as you hear the wind chimes kick in it means whoever's on screen is about to die. On the flip side, it also means you're about to see more snakes, which is always fun.
-Either this movie gets extra points or points taken off for using a real dead dog and turkey in one scene, but definitely evens itself out for having the guy take so long to realize that they're dead. He waves the cloud of flies away a few times, picks up then drops a clearly-inanimate paw, and kicks the turkey in the head. Hmm...
-Out of nowhere, there's this huge debate about women's lib. I don't know why it's there (other than it was made in the 70s and it fills some time) but it sure as hell is. You don't hear the term "sitting on your liberated ass" nearly enough nowadays though... maybe I should bring that back.
-There are a few monumentally bad monologues in this movie. It's like something actors would work on before going to their Days of Our Lives acting school. Wonderfully terrible readings of these inane exposition-heavy soliloquies about every last detail in the story of how the pilot got bit by the snake or why the girl hates men pepper throughout the viewing experience. Great stuff.
-The army health dude uses an eye dropper to make his martini. Not quite as advanced as todays use of the vermouth atomizer, but still pretty sweet. I think he takes his supplies out of an autoclave as well, so it's clean AND dry.
-Right after the big climactic confrontation between the snake scientist and the snakes, they cut to a wild weekend of Vegas romance. For real. The women's lib girl totally falls for the snake scientist in two lines' worth of dialogue and they go on this lost weekend of debauchery and soft-lit ballroom dancing. Take THAT, snakes!
-Later on, they're smooching it up in a tent when they get bombarded by a snake attack. A random army guy comes to the rescue and unloads a full clip of machine gun ammo INSIDE the tent. It's almost too good to be true and honestly makes the movie worth watching.
-At the very end, when the reason for the legion of aggro Rattlers gets revealed as side effects of dumping toxic chemicals, we get an Army general going completely nutball which is always fun.
So all in all, this was better than I thought it would be (having been warned that it's not very good... which is true) but I'm fully hoping that this is just the cocktail to get me ready for the next double feature of snake goodness. So what's up next? Well I'll give you a hint. It starts and ends with an "S."
It's Sssssss! The ssssss-iest of snake titles around! A name so cool you don't even say it, you hiss it! Sssssss!
First off, not letting the Comic Sans font fool me, the Universal logo and Zanuck/Brown's names on this meant it would be just a touch more expensive than Rattlers. I don't know how they convinced Strother Martin to do this movie though because he has to handle more snakes than... well, more than one. Even with clever cutting and the occasional dummy, there are still shots of him right down in it with these scaly little guys. That would bug me I think. Yep. If I was an actor I don't think I could do a movie like this or Kingdom of the Spiders. Just too creepy crawly for me. The snakes would smell my fear with their pits and strike out for sure.
Strother Martin earning his salary.
A few similarities do exist though. More than the snakes I mean. For one, there's an equally out of place conversation near the beginning where the girl talks up environmentalism (which is sort of close to women's lib) and... well... actually that's it. The two movies are pretty different. Rattlers was on a "this could happen if we let the military-industrial complex continue with its new world order!" vibe and this one is more in the Saturday matinee kid's movie mad scientist vein. Nothing wrong with that.
Martin plays a herpetologist (that doesn't mean what I thought it did) who gets a new student assistant and begins to "inoculate" him with cobra venom so he's safe on the job. Uh huh. Along the way, we find out he's crazy because he talks to a python and reads Whitman quotes about how animals are cooler than humans. When the school jock asswipe kills his pet snake (and calls them all "snake freaks"), Martin scoops his Black Mamba into a bag and follows him home. After getting it on with a horny co-ed, the jock takes a shower (explaining that "twice a night's all the coach allows me" when the girlfriend wants more lovin'). In the shower, Strother unleashes his venomous pet and we see it bite a dude's foot in slow motion. Ouch! I mean, you can see that his other foot was gonna step on it so it really had no choice, but still, that's what it gets for being a snake. When the foot raises the snake follows and you know it's because he has his fangs stuck in the soft flesh. I hate things that hang by fangs. Ugh. Creep me out, man. Even if it's just a garter snake, that's still a snake on your foot with its teeth inside you. I have to stop typing about it; it's bugging me even now.
Meanwhile, the assistant (who keeps noticing weird things like the top layer of his skin peeling off and changes to the bone structure of his face) woos the doc's nerd-cute daughter by taking her to a carnival (where an actress appears that will be credited in the end crawl as "kootch dancer"). It's here that the assistant goes into the freak show tent and sees the amazing snake-man, a dude with no arms and no legs that looks kinda like a lizard and whimpers a lot.
Please kill me.
Eventually, the assistant's metamorphosis advances. At one point he looks at himself in the mirror and goes into a rage. The girl yells through the door "how do you feel?" and he answers "ugly!" Ahh, male vanity.
As you can probably guess, the doctor's serum is in fact turning the kid into a new race of king cobra with human intelligence! Unfortunately, the mad doctor also keeps a squealing mongoose in his lab at all times, so there's a pretty gnarly showdown between supra-intelligent snake vs. wily mongoose at the end.
Cobra vs. Varmint
Aside from the insistent addition of weird-ass snake-breathing sound effects any time there's a snake on-screen, this movie's about as fun as it sounds. The pace slows a little in the middle after we've known what's going on for maybe 40 minutes but the movie wants to wait 20 more until it lets us in on the big twist, but hey... 1973 audiences were stupider, right? I mean, I saw Fantastic Planet. What's THAT shit about?
The third and final movie of the night is a classic amongst snakeophiles. Here in Austin, mention of its title sends informed individuals into tirades. Those who've seen it want to see it again; those who haven't need to right now. I can only be talking about Snakes AKA Fangs AKA Holy Wednesday AKA The Best Movie Ever Made.
Snakes is the story of Snakey Bender, a simple guy who likes simple things: taking care of snakes, pork and beans, and John Philip Sousa on Wednesday nights. Snakey's a guy who's got his routine down. He doesn't seem to exist from Thursday to Tuesday, but come Wednesday he's doing what he loves and don't want nobody to mess with that.
Is this what they mean when the guys at the bus stop ask if I want to pet their snake?
Well, poor Snakey has a very bad day. His best friend gets married to a harlot, the wicked town preacher turns the lovely children who gather small animals every week and help to feed the snakes against him, and the lustfully meddlesome grocery mart owners blackmail his love interest into never seeing him again. When all you have is your Wednesdays and that gets taken away, what do you do?
You get bloody snake-themed revenge! That's what you do!
It's getting late and I don't feel nearly as witty as earlier, plus I spent the majority of this movie with my jaw slack, so I don't have anything amazingly clever to say. I think I really need some time to digest this, to comprehend the subtle flavors in the aftertaste, to play some John Philip Sousa marches, drive some cars off cliffs, and march through some sunflower fields.. Mostly though, I think I want to meet a woman like this school teacher and ask her about her childhood. Her love of snakes goes above and beyond any women's libber or environmentalist could (and should) possibly go. The scene where Snakey makes an evening call on her defies verbal description. And his look... oh man, his look.
I'm fairly sure there's a strong religious subtext to this movie. That one of Snakey's pets is named Lucifer is a big hint of course, and the preacher saying that snakes are the devil is another. The fact that the school teacher copulates with serpents might say something, but mostly I think it's about how both God and the Devil should NOT fuck with Wednesdays!
Snakey exacts revenge in repetitive fashion, disposing of each car and marching back to his place the exact same way. The town doesn't seem to figure out that 80% of its characters are gone missin', everyone seeming to accept rumors that people just left town or are on vacation. Let this be a warning to all you cross-country travelers. If you roll into a town with one resident peddling snakes on the roadside, just keep on movin'. You'll thank me later.
You see this scene five, maybe six times.
That's what happens though, when you take a man's Wednesday and mess with it. Every man is entitled to his own Wednesday and has the right to protect it and all that it stands for. Looking at it that way, murdering a half-dozen people while forcing a bound woman to watch really isn't all that bad! Maybe you'd have to see this movie to understand.
That wraps up my adventure through reptile land. It's been fun, it's been cold-blooded, and it's been slithering good times. If I can track them down, maybe I'll follow up this evening's festivities with a Beesploitation night? Bearsploitation? Sasquatchploitation? A world of possibilities open up to me! Now it's time to sleep and hope my dreams come with anti-venom.
Until next time, keep on hissin'!